Stone mosaics dress up Chicago transit stops

With the pressure of an approaching All Star game looming in the not-so-distant future, Studio E was under the gun to design and install a 300-square-foot granite mosaic for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) at the Sox 35th Street Red Line station. And because the firm successfully completed this feat, it has since then been commissioned to design a series of site-specific, mosaic/waterjet hybrid compass rose medallions featuring station names as part of the $450 million “Renew The Blue” program for the CTA Douglas Blue Line in Chicago.

“Because the All Star game was going to be at Sox Park, that [mosaic] was a rush job,” said Evan Glassman of Studio E in Chicago. “We completed it in three weeks. They were happy with the outcome, and now we're talking with the Illinois Sports Authority, which oversees Sox Park. We might do a piece for them inside the park.”

The colors chosen for the mosaic were based on matching the White Sox team colors, explained Glassman. “We used polished and sandblasted Black Absolute, Cambrian Black, Bethel White and Blue Pearl granites,” he said. “The medallion was commissioned at the last minute to be completed for the 2003 All Star Game at Sox Park. We used broken black granite for the field to make it a little more expeditious. The logo was 1⁄2- x 1⁄2-inch granite pieces.”

Working with a crew of four, Glassman and his team finished the logo and adjacent field in the studio in 10 days, and then moved to on-site work, which included installing the logo and completing the field and border. Custom Flex Bond thinset from Custom Building Products was used and modified with Pro Bond Cement Fortifier for additional strength, according to Glassman, who added that Studio E's own sealer/color enhancer was used after grouting.

“That one went well,” said Glassman. “We were then contracted for the Douglas Blue Line, which received Federal Transportation grant money to renew [the transportation system]. It needs a serious infrastructure and architecture overhaul. It was extremely outdated, as the system was built in the early 1900s.”

In total, there are nine stations as well as the CTA Transportation office building. All in all, there will be 27 medallions measuring 4 x 4 feet in size -- most of which will be waterjet cut with some mosaics mixed in -- creating a synthesis of an Old World mosaic look with modern characteristics as well.

“This was a 'pet project' of CTA President Frank Kruesi,” said Glassman. “The stops are relatively austere. They are nice looking, but have a lot of cement, glass and stainless steel. The idea is to give each station its own identity -- a little more aesthetic appeal. We created some designs based on nautical compass roses. We thought some were pretty wildly progressive, and didn't think that they would accept them, but they liked them all. We did four designs, and their own architect came up with one for the transportation building.”

The designs feature simple color fields of black, gray, white and red with stainless steel for some accents, explained Glassman. The medallions were initially drafted by hand by Glassman and Eric May with pencils. “Once we had their interest, we then worked out CAD drawings,” said Glassman. The drawings were converted in-house to CAD for presentation, and then software programmed cutting on the waterjet.

“Each one weighs about 150 pounds,” said Glassman. The pieces are fabricated in the studio and assembled using the reverse process and back buttered with 1⁄2-inch buttered cement board and then lowered onto the configuration. Hydroment Reflex thinset by Bostik Findley Inc. is used, which is highly plastic and needs no modification. The medallions are then installed in the field and finished with Studio E's stainless steel edge banding.

“We're working our way down the line right now, and hopefully by March, we will be finishing up 18th Street, our last stop -- until the Red Line,” said Glassman. “It feels great participating in this important public transportation endeavor. Since the response has been so favorable, we will be introducing our own line -- E line -- of customizable hybrid waterjet/mosaics for public and private applications.”

End box

CTA transportation stops
Chicago, IL

Designer/Installer: Studio E, Chicago, IL
Stone Supplier: Terrazzo & Marble Supply Companies, Wheeling, IL; Granite Supply International, Oak Forest, IL
Installation Product Manufacturers: Custom Building Products, Seal Beach, CA (White Sox medallion); Bostik Findley Inc., Middleton, MA (Douglas Blue Line medallions)

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